Monitoring ocean heat reveals how fast Earth is warming 

Climate change, or global warming, is largely driven by human activity, as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released, causing an accumulation of heat in the Earth's climate system. 

Previously, global average surface temperature has been widely used as a key metric to understand how fast Earth is warming - but a new study suggests monitoring ocean heat content change and sea level rise could be a better way. 

Extra heat trapped by increasing greenhouse gases mainly ends up in the oceans, where more than 90 per cent is stored, so for researchers to measure global warming, they have to measure ocean warming, the study argues.

Ocean heat content and CO2 concentration measurements since 1950s. The black line represents ocean heating for the upper 2000 meters, and the red shading shows the 95% confidence interval. CO2 concentration observed in Mauna Loa Observatory is shown in blue

Ocean heat content and CO2 concentration measurements since 1950s. The black line represents ocean heating for the upper 2000 meters, and the red shading shows the 95% confidence interval. CO2 concentration observed in Mauna Loa Observatory is shown in blue

WHAT THEY FOUND  

To determine how fast the Earth is accumulating heat, researchers focus on the Earth's energy imbalance (EEI): the different between incoming solar radiation and outgoing longwave thermal radiation.

Increases in the EEI are attributed to human activities that increase carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

Extra heat trapped by increasing greenhouse gases mainly ends up in the oceans, where more than 90 per cent is stored.  

So, for researchers to measure global warming, they have to measure ocean warming. 

According to the most up-to-date estimates, the top-10 warmest years of the ocean (indicated by ocean heat content change at the upper 2000 meters) are all in the most recent decade after 2006, with 2015-2016 the warmest period in the past 77 years.

The study, published in the American Geophysical Union's Eos, involved researchers from a range of countries including China, the USA and France.

To determine how fast the Earth is accumulating heat, researchers focus on the Earth's energy imbalance (EEI): the different between incoming solar radiation and outgoing longwave thermal radiation. 

Increases in the EEI are attributed to human activities that increase carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  

The amplitude of the global warming signal compared with natural variability defines how well a metric tracks global warming.

This study showed that the temporal evolution of ocean heat

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